Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What Is Job One?

An atheist who calls himself “Pointman” is infuriated that Christians do not make it our first order of business to take a public stand against the devastating effects of climate change activism in third world countries.

He provides considerable evidence that the efforts of environmental extremists, far from helping, are actually hurting the poorest of the poor. Western nations threaten to withhold foreign aid from countries that permit the use of DDT, so millions in those countries die of malaria. Changes in North American laws under pressure from environmental lobbyists incent farmers in developing nations to grow profitable biofuel crops rather than food staples, leading to price increases of up to 75% in basic foods, and resulting in food riots, starvation, malnutrition and death.

Notwithstanding his penchant for hyperbole, Pointman may well be right.

Raging and Thundering ...

I’d link to his site, but the language is such that you can rarely get through a paragraph without cringing, so I’ll just provide a comparatively laid-back representative sample. In this brief rant, Pointman condemns Christian leaders:
“Don’t tell me why god allows such things because there can be no reason, don’t bother debating god’s existence with me or his mysterious ways, just tell me why as a human being and a supposed man of god with some influence, you aren’t standing in your pulpit at every opportunity, raging and thundering to your congregation against such an obscene and preventable waste of human life and worse still, allowing that inhumanity to grind on day after pitiless day without doing a single thing about it.”

... At Every Opportunity

I don’t have a pulpit. I’ve got a little internet platform where currently a few hundred people may read our more notable posts. But it’s still a platform and a place where we can share the things we see as most important.

But I must confess that while we have touched on the subject of giving from time to time, while we attempt to set out the teaching of scripture about caring for the poor, and while I have certainly opined on occasion about the wrongs that result from imprudent government, environmental obsessions and greed … and while I even agree with much of what Pointman and others are saying, I do not plan on “raging and thundering” about such things in this forum at every opportunity.

The Nature of Our Mandate

That’s not because I despise the poor. I hate the idea of anyone starving. I certainly don’t get up in the morning aiming to make the situation of people in developing countries worse and the thought that some of the things from which I benefit in North America cause harm to others — even when that harm is indirect and unintentional — is cause for real regret and soul-searching. Having lived in a third world country as a child, I have seen poverty close up even if its causes were opaque to me at the time.

But I don’t make eliminating poverty my number one priority every day because my Lord and Saviour didn’t. I am merely following his lead.

Why did the Lord Jesus send his disciples into the world to make more disciples and to teach them to observe everything he had commanded? Why send them — and, by extension, every follower of Christ thereafter — to preach the gospel? Why not send them to make sure the poor are fed and justice is done?

There is no lack of evidence that justice and care for the poor are important to God. Shouldn’t social activism be Job One for the Christian?

And yet it isn’t.

Job One is the Gospel

Poverty makes havoc and misery of this present life. But the teaching of scripture is that sin and rejection of Christ lead to an eternity of misery, loss and regret. There can be no reasonable comparison between the two ills.

Thus the preaching of the gospel and the making of disciples is always Job One.

We are taught to seek first the kingdom of God because those who address evil in this world apart from the knowledge of God merely move the mess around from one place to another and back again. They attempt to cure an ailing environment by starving those for whom it was designed. They attempt to save rare animals from extinction or trees from being harvested through legislation that has the effect of destroying human lives instead. Or they do things like importing a generation of foreign hostiles with whom they have no religious, racial or cultural affinity in hope of replacing the economic energies of the generation they already aborted out of self-interest. The most extreme among the environmental movement would see man exterminated to save the planet. The “cure” is almost invariably worse than the disease. The social cancer eradicated over here metastasizes and reappears over there in a more virulent form.

The gospel, on the other hand, changes lives and hearts in a way that advocacy for any single cause — even a really good cause — never can. Properly taught, understood and lived out, the gospel transforms the nature of man himself. It teaches me to consume less and give more of everything that matters. It teaches me to see the big picture rather than just what impacts me. It teaches me to live for eternity rather than for my immediate gratification. It teaches me to do out of God’s love what I would never think to do otherwise because it would have been entirely unnatural to me before I knew Jesus Christ.

It is the only real and lasting cure for the evils of this world because it brings to bear on them the viewpoint — not to mention the life and energy — of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

But there is no way to make that priority comprehensible to someone who is convinced the here-and-now is all there is. None at all.

Given a choice, most Christians would prefer to be liked and understood. But we cannot seek first the kingdom of God and please folks like Pointman simultaneously. It can’t be done. We’re going to have to be prepared to be misunderstood, criticized and maybe even take some abuse for prioritizing the gospel and the teaching of the word of God with our money, time, prayer and mental and spiritual energies.

That doesn’t mean we should ignore the poor, or vote for politicians who support destructive or self-interested policies, or fail to speak out on such issues when the opportunity arises.

But those who believe the Bible cannot afford to take our eyes off the priorities set by the Lord Jesus himself. If we are truly his disciples, we have no right to pursue other agendas.

Even good ones.

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